The Five Points Association, which regularly attracts more than 30,000 people with its annual St. Pat’s in Five Points festival, announced today that the event, slated for March 21, will not happen as scheduled due to fears of the spreading COVID-19 coronavirus.
Steve Cook, the association's president, confirmed to Free Times that the group decided to moved on from its planned date after Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin pushed it to do so.
"We’ve been in talks with the mayor and all kinds of different folks at different levels of government," he said, noting that the association has been in meetings all week discussing whether to proceed with next Saturday's festival. "The mayor asked us to postpone the festival. We do the event in partnership with the city so we’re certainly not going to push back on something that he says. It is a public health threat, and I’m certainly not going to fight the mayor on that."
Benjamin, the third-term mayor, told Free Times that if the association had not moved to postpone it, the city would have forced it to do so, noting that City Council "is of one mind" about the matter.
“They have been incredibly good to deal with, and thinking through all the ups and downs,” Benjamin said, of the Five Points Association.
Event cancellations in the U.S. began to ramp up last week after Austin, Texas' massively popular South By Southwest festival was forced to abort the 2020 edition of the festival, scheduled to last form March 13 to March 22.
St. Pat's joins a growing list of canceled Columbia events, which Free Times continues to track and update.
The association hopes to hold the festival at a later date that is still to be determined.
"Right now, nobody knows what’s going to happen next week, next month," Cook said. "Just in general, whether it’s schools or events in general. We really would like to have the event in some capacity, just preliminary things have been floated around about partnering up with other events in the Southeast to have it on a specific day. ... We’ll see how feasible [that] is."
As to the potential financial damage the association may endure with now having to move the festival, or do without it and its annual revenue surge, Cook said that didn't have any bearing on the decision. He also told Free Times that he's unsure which of the artists performing might be able to move to a later date, and which of the guaranteed payments promised to performers and vendors could potentially be transferred should such a postponement come to pass.
"All along, I thought it was very important to not make this decision based on the financial profit and loss based on this year's festivals," he said. "It was if the mayor or if the state had come down and said, 'This is not safe' ... that was our tipping point."
South Carolina indie rock favorite Band of Horses was slated to headline the festival, crowning a slate of 24 acts on five stages.
Chris Trainor contributed to this story.